Photojournalist Jordi Bru (Pamplona, 53 years old) – co-author of Los Tercios (Editorial Desperta Ferro) along with also journalist Àlex Claramunt (Barcelona, 39 years old) – begins the book asking for forgiveness for having committed the greatest possible sin of the profession: retouch an image. In photojournalism it is totally forbidden to change the smallest detail of a snapshot, a kind of anathema that drags directly into the hells of the profession. However, Bru does it over and over again, and conscientiously, in the dozens of photographs that illustrate this magnificent work of historical recreation. The result is simply spectacular.
Throughout the chapters, the professional recreates exact images of the daily life of what was considered the best army in the world in the 16th and 17th centuries. Broadly speaking, and to achieve these results, first study and visit the places where the events occurred; then he places real characters dressed in costumes and weapons of the time on the site and ends his work with a profuse laboratory work in which he retouches the protagonists and their surroundings again and again until obtaining the desired image. A thousand and one photos and endless corrections to put the wounded horse in the correct position, the worried faces of the soldiers before the arrival of the enemy, the amazement at the defeat, the joy of victory … And touch up even the funds and the floors in its smallest details. “Sometimes I have to go find them,” he says. Like the ice that appears in the chapter dedicated to the Miracle of Empel, which comes from photographs he took during an expedition to the North Pole.
Because Bru takes the reader back five centuries ago with his images, always accompanied by didactic and entertaining texts by Claramunt, which describe the formations of these military bodies, their clothing, their Dutch, English and French enemies, as well as hunger, despair, the vivanderos who fed them, the priests who rebuked them for their excesses and laziness and the battles they lost or won.
One of the images from ‘Los Tercios’. JORDI BRU
Because the Tercios —indeed a multinational force at the service of the King of Spain— vied with each other to occupy the most prominent and dangerous places in the fighting to the death. The Spaniards had the honor of always being at the center of these formations, which were divided by nationality (where the limitless value of the Italian troops or the cruelty of the German lansquenetes stood out) and by the type of weapons used. Armies that used tactics that adapted to the passage of time and the technological developments of each moment, since they began in the XV as colonelies and ended in the XVIII as regiments.
It was precisely in the aforementioned Empel (Netherlands), between December 2 and 3, 1585, when more than 5,000 soldiers from the Thirds were trapped on the river island of Bommel, a tongue of land several kilometers between the Meuse and Waal. The Dutch then saw an opportunity to avenge their recent defeat in Antwerp. They launched their powerful navy, under the command of Philips van Hohenloe, and surrounded the island, while opening the floodgates to literally drown the Spanish. The shelling of the ships was unremitting and deadly for days, as the water continued to level up and threatened to drown the soldiers who were building improvised walls of earth and stones to lengthen their lives. “The enemies of these efforts of which they fortified themselves, and of the affected ferocity, certain of a crowd surrounded by water, laughed,” said the Italian chronicler Famiano Strada. The desperation of the Tercios led them to even consider creating two sides and beginning to kill each other so as not to fall into the hands of the enemies.
On December 7, the morale of the Spaniards plummeted even more as the messengers who sent the Captain General of the Flanders Army, Alexander de Farnesio, to help them were seized. It was the end. However, something unexpected happened according to tradition. A soldier who was digging a hole found a board painted with the image of the Conception of Our Lady. The Spanish fences received this as a sign of divine protection, but the situation was still as desperate, so they went to sleep knowing that their hours were numbered.
But that night it froze — between the end of the XVI and the beginning of the XVII there was what has been called the Little Ice Age — and the rivers froze, so that the boats were trapped without the possibility of fleeing or maneuvering. The Spaniards, seeing that the night had donated an ice bridge directly to their enemies, advanced furiously against the Dutch and ended the army. The image of the assault on ships that Bru recreates reflects the ferocity of the freed soldiers as they walk on the ice, the smoking muskets that they fired or the huge pikes ready to pierce the Dutch unbelievers.
The entire book commemorates victories and defeats with enormous fidelity, whose turning point is Rocroi (1640), where the French win the battle and spare the lives of the 3,826 sole survivors for their “enormous courage”. The Tercios will remain active until the arrival of the Bourbons in the 18th century, who decide to reorganize the Army and create the current regiments. That yes turning into patron saint of the Infantry to that virgin of the Immaculate Conception that had found a soldier of the Tercios one cold night of December of 1585 and that Bru photographs with precision, as if he himself had been there.
SEARCH ONLINE ‘LOS TERCIOS’
Photographs: Jordi Bru.
Texts: Àlex Claramunt.
Editorial: Desperta Ferro Ediciones, 2020.
Format: hardcover (144 pages, 24.95 euros).
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